How should we respond to ISIS? There are no easy choices, but a few bad examples

After the nightmare of the attacks by the Islamic State in Paris on Nov. 13, the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of the Holy Land in Jerusalem called for a unification of “forces of good” to put an end to the rampage. It is impossible to argue with that exhortation except to ask how the “forces of good” should mobilize themselves without further contributing to the evils they oppose. There are no easy choices ahead in confronting the Islamic State (for which the bishops used the Arabic acronym Daesh) and unraveling the geopolitical disaster that is the broken state of Syria, but a few bad responses are already evident.

One bad response is to surrender to hysteria. Though an apparently fraudulent Syrian passport was found at the scene of one attack in Paris, the members of this terror squad increasingly appear to be resident Europeans. That fact did not prevent some U.S. politicians from rhetorically turning over the life rafts of Syrian refugees. Their example was particularly disheartening in light of the refusal by President François Hollande of France to do the same. 

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U.S. bishops and other religious leaders likewise rejected calls to turn away refugees. Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, offered condolences on Nov. 17 to the families of the victims in Paris but expressed his dismay at calls to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees who are themselves fleeing terror. Instead of “using this tragedy to scapegoat all refugees,” he said, U.S. public officials should work together “to end the Syrian conflict peacefully so the close to 4 million Syrian refugees can return to their country and rebuild their homes.”

These politicians did a disservice to an already fearful public. Syrian refugees are not crashing ashore on U.S. coasts or crossing its borders. Current policies already require rigorous and lengthy security vetting overseas. 

Another misstep, the disproportionate attention to the suffering in the Paris violence, perpetuated an alienating narrative of Western primacy. But the world is increasingly united in suffering at the hands of Islamist terror. Most of its victims are Muslims themselves. Increased attentiveness to these victims is important, both morally and strategically, to muster the “forces of good” for any collaborative campaigns to suppress ISIS terror. 

A final, perhaps most treacherous mistake in the aftermath of the Paris attacks is to be deceived by the glamour of retribution. The United States has long made an idol out of military might, a capricious divinity indifferent to its worshipers’ hopes and expectations. Since the Paris attacks, many have reflexively demanded the familiar course of heaping more violence upon violence in emotional appeals for a campaign of “overwhelming” force to “crush” the Islamic State. This may be the outcome welcomed most by ISIS recruiters, who have found resentment of Western aggression a powerful aid (see “Lessons of Paris” ).

It is true that ISIS-controlled Syria/Iraq has been degraded into a vast, criminal enterprise of violence and oppression. The painful experience of the United States in the region should by now have established that the promise of military power as a reliable agent of change, stability and security is a false one. America’s faith in the use of force is what got it into this catastrophic muddle in the first place.

Lasting security, stability and peace will be achieved only through encounter and reconciliation with the sources of potential support for extremism bubbling under Western and Middle Eastern societies. That process acknowledges how much Western intrigues and oil addiction have contributed to the current crisis. It requires a re-evaluation of U.S. relationships with allies in the Middle East and with antagonists who contribute to regional instability in pursuit of their own goals. For European powers—and other nations whose citizens provide martyr-fodder for ISIS extremism—it should propel an examination of conscience in response to the home-grown disaffection of so many Muslim and other youth. 

Accepting a patient, comprehensive campaign to isolate the Islamic State and its supporters means recognizing the possibility of other acts of terror; it does not mean acquiescing to them. All reasonable efforts should continue to diminish ISIS and protect the vulnerable, including U.N.-administered safe areas and no-fly zones enforced by NATO. Meanwhile, the international community must make a cease-fire in Syria, the epicenter of disorder, the highest global priority.

But rationalizations for yet another war in the Middle East cannot overcome just war appeals for proportionality and demands for noncombatant immunity. After the experiences of the recent past, who can argue for a reasonable probability of success? Driving ISIS terrorism into the ground creates risks for the open societies of the West, but they pale in comparison to the suffering and broadened instability that will be engendered by a vast new military adventure in the region, even one intended to “achieve peace.”

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William Rydberg
2 years ago
One wonders if the time is approaching for the Catholic Church Magisterium to come to terms with respect to the Catholic position with respect to Public Divine Revelation; perhaps the Anniversary of Dei Verbum? As I understand it in Pope Benedict's writings there has been an implication that, Popes have declined to face certain, shall we say, assertions and developments in religion since the death of the Apostles out of the desire not to cast scandal on Religion period. I'd certainly be interested in such a Synod, should the Holy Spirit desire one, if it please Jesus-God come in the flesh... Blessed be the Holy Trinity! But who am I to even ask? I am a nobody... It's up to the Kingfishers to discern...
Carlos Orozco
1 year 12 months ago
What?
Charles Anziulewicz
2 years ago
Well the good, God-fearing Christian folks over at WorldNetDaily think the solution is to simply bomb Mecca off the map: http://www.wnd.com/2015/11/bomb-mecca-off-the-face-of-the-earth/
Ray Shanahan
2 years ago
If it were only commentators of this political persuasion and intellectual level, I would not be concerned. Unfortunately, I hear and read the same solutions from our clergy, and from longtime parishioners. How can we preach the words of Christ on Sunday and call for the eradication of all those we perceive as enemies on Monday?
Tim O'Leary
1 year 12 months ago
It is depressing that the Editors feel compelled to provide such a politically correct one-sided analysis, and fail to appreciate that military force is now the only moral response, particularly when the enemy is already fully engaged in word and deed, bombing, beheading, enslaving and expanding into many countries. Islamic terrorism never started with Bush 43. Major sins of omission in our recent past include 1) the failure of the 1st Bush administration to deal with the invader Saddam Hussein, after a highly successful military solution of Kuwait, 2) the failure of the Clinton Administration to take out Osama Bin Laden in 1998 (as Clinton admits-ref. 1 below), permitting him a safe-haven in Afghanistan to launch the most lethal attack on American soil; 3) the failure of the 2nd Bush administration to deal with the aftermath of a highly successful military defeat of the bloodthirsty Baathist regime; 4) the failure of the the Obama administration in just about every possible way (apology tour, failure to support the Arab Spring movements, precipitous retreat from Iraq, failures in Libya, gaps in home surveillance, claiming Al Qaeda defeated, underestimating ISIS again and again, and generally blaming & scaring the American people). Just as the Obama administration instituted a 6-month pause in Iraqi refugee processing (ref 2 below) after it was found in 2011 that terrorists had penetrated through these channels, it is perfectly reasonable to have a pause in Syrian processing now, when at least two of the French terrorists came in this route. It is counter-productive for Obama and his journalist supporters to cry racism or xenophobia when the American people have lost confidence in his commitment to really deal with ISIS. Against all evidence, Obama thinks his "strategy" is working and he has ISIS contained, and saves all his energy to bash Republicans and focus on what he thinks is much more urgent: climate change. And it is perfectly moral & reasonable (and part of our law-ref 3) to consider religious persecution in the prioritization of refugee status. The Yazidis and Syrian Christians are being specifically targeted for extermination, just as the Jews were by the Nazis. Moreover, assimilation is also important to long-term success. Why can't the Muslim countries take most or all of the Muslim refugees? As the French experience and the Boston bombing show, homegrown Islamic terrorism comes from past refugees that failed to be assimilated. Remember there were delayers, deniers (Joe Kennedy) and appeasers when the Nazis were rising yet still militarily vulnerable. Imagine what the West's response back then would have been if mass beheadings, rapes and enslavements were going on and were broadcast and boasted about in 1930s Germany, and the Nazis were vowing to destroy our cities. Why should we care less when it is being perpetrated by Muslim terrorists? The vacuous Donald Trump and Nixonian Hillary Clinton say defeating Iraq is not America's fight, and Bernie Sanders wants to change the topic. We are already in a Third World War and the country needs a real leader who can balance the risks with the response. Marco Rubio seems by far the most ready to be that leader(4). 1. LA Times: http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-bill-clinton-osama-bin-laden-20140801-story.html 2. http://thefederalist.com/2015/11/18/the-obama-administration-stopped-processing-iraq-refugee-requests-for-6-months-in-2011/ 3. Section 1158 of Title 8, U.S. Code: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/427262/refugee-religious-test-shameful-and-not-american-except-federal-law-requires-it-andrew 4. Politico: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/11/rubio-isil-strategy-213377
ed gleason
1 year 12 months ago
Here is my non-violent solution to chaos in the Middle East. The Saudi royal family has hundreds of billions in cash. It was Saudis that did 9/11. Al Qeada and Ben Laden were/are Saudi.. Secret Saudi money has flowed to ISIS'. ISIS and Saudis are Sunni.. and anti- Assad and anti Shia. So US, Russia, France all send a demand letter to the Saudi kingdom demanding 100 billion dollars next week to START to finance Arab refugees for re-location and permanent housing.[no tents] Failure to comply will result in not a gallon of Saudi oil will ever leave the kingdom's ports next week. World cheers.
Carlos Orozco
1 year 12 months ago
They'll blame it on Assad.
ed gleason
1 year 12 months ago
Blame? who listens to Royal Saudi squawks.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 12 months ago
About as likely to work as Obama's strategy. But, you contradict yourself. Stopping Saudi oil from leaving the kingdom could only be done by force (a violent solution).
ed gleason
1 year 12 months ago
French Russian US desroyers telling Saudi [Greek?] tankers to stop for inspection is less violent than NBA finals.
James Addison
1 year 11 months ago
You offer several observations and criticisms that are historically accurate and intellectually reasonable, though some may disagree with your conclusions or recommendations. What I am most troubled by is your suggestion (?) of comparability between ISIS and Nazi Germany, and the implications that naturally flow from this, some of which you highlight. In my view, your equation grossly exaggerates current circumstances ( MASS (?) beheadings, rapes and enslavements?) and minimizes historical realities. Nazism "winning" / obtaining power in one of Europe's central powers seems, at least to me, a far cry from ISIS attempting to establish a "state" within two of the poorest and weakest of Middle Eastern states. Yes, I disagree with your statement that we are in WW3. But more importantly, I disagree with the logic that you appear to have used to come to that conclusion.
Carlos Orozco
1 year 12 months ago
"Accepting a patient, comprehensive campaign to isolate the Islamic State and its supporters means recognizing the possibility of other acts of terror; it does not mean acquiescing to them. All reasonable efforts should continue to diminish ISIS and protect the vulnerable, including U.N.-administered safe areas and no-fly zones enforced by NATO. Meanwhile, the international community must make a cease-fire in Syria, the epicenter of disorder, the highest global priority." No. No. No. The neocon/Salafist Frankenstein is out of control and it must be eliminated by all means possible. No ceasefire, but complete annihilation of the psychotic terrorists. The survival of truly moderate Muslims and that of Christian communities, many of whom can trace their origins to Apostolic times, demands it. These terrorist attacks perpetrated against Lebanon, Russia and France are desperate tactics of a collapsing Daesh. The beginning of the collapse has been made possible by the leadership of one of the very few true statesmen remaining in the world: Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. Expect many Syrian/Iraqi Christian newborns to be named Vladimir (not Barack or John -at least not for Kerry or McCain). Easy bet. There is no way Daesh can survive a trimester of Russian/Syrian/Iraqi/Kurdish onslaught. Simply no way. The first cities have already fallen. ISIS fighters are only seven-feet tall in their edited execution videos. Obama must do his best (wishful thinking) to keep American "allies" and sponsors of terrorism Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel out of Syria. What else can America do? The most important thing is not give a penny or bullet more to so-called Syrian, so-called moderate, so-called freedom fighters. Such continued support is a true war crime, a thinly veiled war of aggression, as defined by the Nuremberg trials. Twelve years of open American nihilism is way too much; sack Victoria Nuland, Robert Kagan, felon David Patreaus, Samantha Power, and the likes. Having NATO no-fly zones is, without a doubt, the WORST idea. Just terrible. In the (very) best case scenario, that would obstruct the Russian air campaign, the game-changing force in the conflict (whom and what was the Pentagon bombing for over a year?); but most probably would make confrontation with Russia unavoidable. Saving "moderate" terrorists is not worth starting WWIII. Finally, stop OBSESSING about Bashar al-Assad, listen to the Christians whom he protects!
Bruce Snowden
1 year 12 months ago
I don't understand and so cannot agree with the statement, "No Clear Answer on How to Confront ISIS." As far as I can see, it is not morally righteous, morally acceptable, to allow terrorists, or terrorism, to keep a country, the world fearful, ever in danger of deadly aggression and the shedding of innocent blood. If a wild animal comes running at you to kill you, you may run and hide allowing the animal to kill others, or you may kill the wild animal in its tracks. The right to say "nice Kitty, let me pet you," must always be part of the equation, as peace is always superior to war. However, adhering to Augustine's teaching it is also necessary that, "Although charity (love) is good, it must never be practiced contrary to sound judgment." Amen! As someone has said, "All it takes for evil to triumph if for good people to sit back and do nothing." Again, Amen! In the interests of peace, the world must unite and with bonding resolve, annihilate terrorists and terrorism from the earth, repeatedly if necessary. How can anything else work?
Paul Ferris
1 year 11 months ago
The key words here are proportionality and noncombatant immunity. If Bush had understood these two ideas there would have been no invasion of Iraq #2. The problem with Obama is he is Christian, sane, and too intelligent for the average American who loves the Trump solution: "bomb the hell out of them." Bush did that and we are still paying for it....
Tim O'Leary
1 year 11 months ago
Less than 3 weeks from the Paris attacks, and we now have the largest terrorist attack at home since 9/11, in suburban San Bernardino, again by Radical Islamic Jihadis. And the Obama administration's response (and that of his apologists in the press) is once again totally predictable and completely inadequate. Just as they tried to categorize the Fort Hood massacre by Nidal Hasan as primarily one of workplace violence, and lied that the Benghazi murders were caused by a spontaneous riot relating to an old anti-Muhammad YouTube video, and claimed that ISIS had been contained, and the Paris massacres were a setback in a winning campaign, they were last to see that the San Bernardino killings were terror related. Then, in his speech to the nation, Obama seemed once again far more concerned about Islamaphobia than ISIS. I note the this journal has the same instincts, as the article above is far more worried about anti-Islamic "hysteria" in the USA than Christophobia at the hands of ISIS. Just who is sinning the most against proportionality? For a reality check, do a quick body count on those killed on US soil for Islamaphobic motivations. As to the gun-control arguments, I am all for gun-control and bomb-control when it comes to terrorists, but I have not seen any bomb-control laws that work against terrorists, and I note both California and Paris, France have relatively strict gun-control laws, so I wonder why we would think gun-control laws are the effective and proportionate responses to Radical Islamic Jihad. Fine to work on that, but I think the only reason it is raised now is to avoid dealing with the immediate threat at hand. Once again, the most sane and pragmatic response came from Senator Rubio: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2015/12/06/rubio_responds_to_obama_where_is_there_widespread_evidence_of_discrimination_against_muslims.html
Carlos Orozco
1 year 11 months ago
The degrading of ISIS and other foreign-backed Islamic terrorist groups continues. Homs, the third largest city in Syria, has just been liberated from terror after reaching a "truce". In practical terms, leaving it in control of governmental forces. Add to that the cities of Mosul and Raqqa, both under Daesh control, have been isolated from one another. And that the Iraqi army is preparing assaults on both Mosul and Ramadi. Excellent news. If corrupt Erdogan (NATO member) and the Saudi royal family (biggest global sponsors of terrorism) can be contained from strongly resupplying ISIS, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi has his days numbered. After the latest terrorist attacks, France seems to have finally lost interest in the "moderate" rebels.

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